I am in Germany this month visiting our in-laws, and the other evening the topic of maternity leave came up. I was asking my father-in-law how maternity leave works in Germany and I was disturbed by what I found (but more disturbed after doing further research).
First, this is how a typical maternity leave goes down in America: Mother works at her job until she goes into labor. By law, mother can take a 12 week unpaid maternity leave – but only if mother worked for employer the 12 previous months before her baby’s birth. If mother returns to work full time after her 12 week maternity leave, typically her infant is kept in a day care center 8-12 hours per day, 5 days per week. Feeling the financial pressure of having no income, many mother go back to work after only 6 weeks. Most day care centers will accept infants as young as 6 weeks old. (One of my good friends had only worked for her employer 5 months before her son was born. She was only given an 11 day maternity leave!)
Here’s how maternity leave works in Germany: Mother gets last trimester of pregnancy paid time off of work. Once the baby is born, mother receives 67% of her net income for an entire year (for a maximum of $2,500 per month). In addition to this, the government pays all mothers kindergelt (child money) to help support all families financially. Each family, regardless of income, receives the equivalent of $200 per month, per child, until the children are 18 years old. Since birth to age 3 are the most critical years of a child’s development, there are no day care centers or any institutionalized schooling until children are age 3. Germany allows the mother and father to split the maternity-paternity leave as well.
When I heard this, I thought two things: 1) Germany has the best maternity leave in the world 2) In the wealthiest country in the world, why in the world is America not supporting our parents, allowing them to give adequate and proper care for our children, and allowing an infant to be dropped off at a day care center all day so mom and dad can earn a quick buck?
I was wrong about Germany having the best maternity leave in the world. I found a list on Wikipedia of all of the countries in the world and the maternity leave they have in place, and I found that dozens of countries have an even better system than Germany. I was astonished to find that America is the only country in the entire world that does not have a paid maternity leave. Even Iraq, Somalia, Cuba, Mexico and Afghanistan have better maternity leaves than us!
The most generous maternal/paternal leave system is in Lithuania, where mothers are provided 8 weeks of 100% paid leave before the due date, 100% pay in the first year, 85% in the second year and additional (third) year of unpaid leave. Either mother or father can take the leave, or they can swap in shifts. Additionally father is provided one month of paternal leaver immediately after child’s birth.
Once this discussion was on the table, my German friends and family were shocked that, of all places, America allows infants to go to day care centers and that our maternity leave is so pitiful.
Man, if I had known this 5 years ago, I would have gotten knocked up in Lithuania!